• 06.15.11

How Evernote Created A Hit iPad App That Uses… The Screen Flap?!

Evernote Peek uses the iPad 2’s Smart Cover as an integral part of its user experience. Copycats, assemble!

How Evernote Created A Hit iPad App That Uses… The Screen Flap?!

Old and busted: iPad apps. New hotness: iPad Smart Cover apps. You read that right: why stick to just the screen when you can design and develop headspinningly innovative experiences that take advantage of the iPad’s stylish dust cover, too? Last week Evernote became the first company to do just that, with an app called Peek that turns your tablet into an addictively interactive flash card game. A month or two from now, the app store will probably be riddled with rip-offs of this genius idea:


“When we look at the world, we think, ‘how can we improve people’s memory?'”

After using Peek to teach myself Japanese sushi terms (unagi… eel!) I had to know: how on earth does a company decide to develop an app based on a dust cover? “It’s like that expression, ‘when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,'” Evernote VP of Marketing Andrew Sinkov tells Co.Design. “When we look at the world, we think, ‘how can we improve people’s memory?'” Sinkov and Evernote CEO Phil Libin were playing around with the Smart Cover on a plane trip back from SXSW, and were extra impressed with the its ability to “wake up” the iPad on demand. “The Smart Cover is so well-designed, it’s not just a cover — it almost feels like a magical extension of the iPad itself — and we suddenly wondered whether that functionality was something we could tie into,” Sinkov continues. “The way it’s constructed [with those flaps], it’s like you’re peeking on the screen. And it just became obvious that we could create a learning tool to use this Smart Cover the same way people use flash cards.”

Sinkov says that the basic vision of how the app would look and feel — peek under one “flap” to see a question, peek under the next to see the answer — came to them near-instantly. “That little wrist movement to reveal the answer is so natural,” he says. And tapping into the iPad’s sleep-and-wake function (which the Smart Cover already uses) didn’t even require any special programming tricks. “Apple chooses what features to expose to developers, and the sleep mode control happens to be one of those features,” he explains. “That’s how the Smart Cover works: when you close it, the device goes to sleep. We’re just cleverly using that and adding to it.”

Evernote also partnered with a digital flash-card company.

The harder challenge was in working out the exact design details of Peek’s user experience. In a sharp departure from its flagship software (which I use every day to keep track of my Co.Design story ideas, incidentally), Evernote decided to make Peek highly skeuomorphic — full of visual details and affordances that closely mimic physical objects in the real world. “We thought it should be reminiscent of ‘real life’ because the physical experience of using Peek is like flipping through paper,” says Sinkov. “Getting that right was the hardest part: how do the notebooks look, how many characters are visible and in what typeface, should the notebooks appear be stapled or stitched.”


In the end Evernote (and their design/development partner, MindsMomentum) took Peek from flyover-country brainstorm to finished product in just four weeks. Peek is free and comes with a demo notebook (that sushi quiz I mentioned above) pre-installed, but Evernote also partnered with digital flash-card company StudyBlue to offer other Peek-optimized study subjects like the periodic table, U.S. capitals, and more. And Evernote users can sync their own notebooks to the app and create their own personal study aids. “This isn’t an experiment, this is a natural extension of our product line,” Sinkov says. And version 2.0 of Peek is already in the works, which should keep the inevitable copycats guessing at what Evernote will put under that Smart Cover next.

[Read more about Peek at Evernote]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.